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If the current absence of live symphonic music at the Jacobs Music Center can be assuaged, I suggest contemplation of San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payere’s recently released 2020-21 season of the Jacobs Masterworks Series is just what the doctor ordered. A season of bracing breadth, Payare continues his intrepid traversal of the orchestral canons of Beethoven and Shostakovich, while exploring major new works by contemporary luminaries such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Luther Adams, Tan Dun, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir.

Rafael Payare [photo (c.) Bjorne Bertheussen]

Payare opens the new season on October 9, 2020, with Dmitri Shostakovich’s heaven-storming Fifth Symphony and Beethoven’s unique Triple Concerto, featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Symphony Concertmaster Jeff Thayer, and pianist Inon Barnatan. This program also includes the young Venezuelan-American composer Reinaldo Moya’s 2016 Siempre lunes, siempre marzo (“Always Monday, Always March”). Presiding on the podium for the first four concerts of the season, Payare will continue his expansive vision giving the West Coast premiere of Brett Dean’s Piano Concerto featuring Jonathan Biss as soloist, opening October 16. Biss gave the work’s successful premiere earlier this year in Stockholm with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and with the San Diego Symphony he will also play Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto on the same program. Payare will add Beethoven’s Second Symphony for good measure. Biss and Barnatan, coincidentally, were featured together in the 2019 SummerFest finale concert as soloists in Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major K. 365.

In his November 6 & 7 weekend program, Payare will again pair Beethoven and Shostakovich, contrasting the former’s rarely encountered First Symphony and the latter’s probing post-World War II Eighth Symphony. The following November week, Payare will feature Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with Essa-Pekka Salonen’s 2011 tone poem “Nyx,” Continuing the Beethoven theme, Principal Guest Conductor Edo de Waart returns to the podium on December 6 to lead Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with veteran pianist Garrick Ohlsson as soloist.

I always eagerly anticipate the orchestra’s annual three-week January Festival, this year titled In the Name of the Earth. Curated by noted percussion soloist and

Steven Schick [photo (c) Bill Dean]

UC San Diego music professor Steven Schick—he fashioned the highly successful 2018 January Symphony festival It’s About Time—this 2021 Festival promises to explore the deep connection musicians, artists and all humanity have long had with nature, as well as a reminder of its importance and fragility. Schick will conduct the January 15, 2021, opening weekend of concerts, presenting Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams’ “Become Desert,” a massive work for choir and orchestra premiered in 2018 by the Seattle Symphony. The San Diego Symphony was a co-commissioner of the work. On the same program Schick will conduct Stravinsky’s early ballet “Petrushka” and Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s 2018 “Metacosmos,” a work written for the New York Philharmonic while she was their featured resident composer. Many San Diegans no doubt recall hearing Thorvaldsdottir’s impressive compositions aired at UC San Diego while she was acquiring her degrees at that fertile crucible of new music.

Gemma New [photo (c.) Britt Olsen-Ecker]

On January 28, guest conductor Gemma New will lead Tan Dun’s Water Concerto for Water, Percussion, and Orchestra with Schick as soloist. Tan Dun’s 1998 concerto employs large bowls of water as a sound source, a technique he expanded in his 2000 Water Passion after St. Matthew, an unforgettable work presented many seasons ago by the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest. New, the young New Zealand conductor who made her impressive San Diego Symphony debut in May of 2019, will continue her water theme with “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

Payare returns to the podium on January 29 with more earth-centered music: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Pastoral, and Gustav Mahler’s massive orchestral tone poem Das Lied von Der Erde. Opening the February, 2021, concerts, the dashing young German conductor Matthias Pintscher—he made his first appearance here in May of 2017—brings Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s expansive Second Symphony.

Matthias Pintscher [photo (c) Andrea Medici]

Conductor Laureate Jahja Ling returns on February 26 to conduct Bruch’s evergreen “Scottish Fantasy” with violin soloist Paul Huang. He will also bring the contemporary Chinese composer Chen Yi’s Ge Xu (“Antiphony”) to his concert. Payare finishes the month of March with concerts that present Béla Bartók’s landmark Concerto for Orchestra and Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto with Marc-André Hamelin, as well as Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” with the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann, who gave such a compelling account of Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder” with the Symphony in November of 2019.

In April, Edo de Waart pairs the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances with Abstractions (2016) by the contemporary English composer Anna Clyne. With the San Diego Master Chorale he will give us Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem. Opening a full May calendar of concerts, British conductor and organist Harry Bicket will lead an all-Baroque program featuring J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 and Handel Suites from Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music.

Alisa Weilerstein [photo (c.) Christian Steiner]

Payare returns to close the season with two impressive programs. On May 14 & 16 he will offer Leoš Janáček’s “Taras Bulba” and two major Tchaikovsky works: the Second Symphony and the Violin Concerto with the Israeli violinist Gary Braunstein. He closes the season May 21-23 with Alicia Weilerstein in the Elgar Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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